WA councils under AG's lens
Western Australia’s local governments are now under the oversight of the state’s Auditor General.
New laws have brought WA in line with the rest of Australia, where all jurisdictions have extended their state auditor-general’s powers to local government in the last decade.
By financial year 2020/2021, the AG’s department will go through all WA local governments. Additionally, local governments are now required to publish their annual reports including audit reports on their websites.
The extension of the AG’s powers was first raised in the Barnett Government, and was picked up by the new McGowan government.
Local Government Minister David Templeman said the expanded powers would help lift the standard of accountability for local government and increase public confidence.
“The Auditor General is best placed to identify systemic financial issues in the sector, and can assist the sector in developing strategies to address these,” Mr Templeman said in a statement this week.
“WA communities will now be better able to benchmark their local government’s overall efficiency and effectiveness, as well as having access to a truly independent assessment of a local government’s performance and financial position.”
The reforms come in the wake of a series of Corruption and Crime Commission investigations of WA local governments over allegations of serious misconduct and corruption.
The CCC suggested the cases were a sign of “structural weaknesses” in the sector.
CCC head and former Supreme Court judge John McKechnie says there are problems all over the sector, including cultures of entitlement.
“The issue is in procurement, lax governments and often people who are friends and, quite bluntly, incompetence – people who have not got the skills to manage budgets of many millions of dollars or oversight a CEO who may arrogantly assert power,” Mr McKechnie told ABC radio in May.
“If I give you tickets to shows, pay for holidays or renovations at your house at cut prices, who’s to know?
“You have to recognise that friendship is one thing but when you are elected to a position, ignorance is no longer an excuse.
“You are responsible for governance of that local authority and cannot let friendship or ignorance get in the way of good governance.”
The WA Local Government Association says it is “unfair and inaccurate” to suggest all WA councils were crooked.
“The Local Government sector accepts significant issues with a small number of Councils and does not set out to defend those who have done wrong, but also should not share in the blame,” WALGA president and East Pilbara Shire councillor Lynne Craigie said in a statement earlier this year.